Authors: Michael Connelly
Ballard was hours into her FID interview before she knew for sure that Bonner was dead. Her two interviewers had keyed in on what had happened after he had supposedly — their word, not hers — pulled the tube from his neck.
“Look, why would I put the tube into his throat and try to save the guy’s life and then pull the tube out again?” she asked.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Sanderson replied.
Captain Gerald “Sandy” Sanderson was the lead interviewer. He was also the officer in charge of the Force Investigation Division — the man who for years had been tasked with sweeping out the bad cops who got involved in questionable shootings, choke holds, and other unauthorized uses of force. Under the present pressures and politics of the department and the public, it was wholly believed across the ranks that any officer who got into a scrape of any kind was out. The details of the incident didn’t matter. Sanderson was there to sand down the sharp edges of the department and make everything smooth. That meant washing out anybody whose actions might be seen as controversial from any angle.
Ballard had felt it two minutes into her interview, not two hours. A murder suspect had obviously followed her and used lockpicks to break into her home while she slept. She had
defended herself, and the man had died, whether by his own hand or not, and she was getting hammered by the very people who should have her back. The world had gone sideways, and for the first time in a long time Ballard thought she might lose her job. And for the first time in a long time she thought that might not be so bad.
The interview was taking place in the detective bureau of the Northeast Division, which encompassed Los Feliz. This was routine, but still Ballard felt cut off from her division and the people she worked with. At one point, when Sanderson’s second, Detective Duane Hammel, stepped out to get fresh batteries for his recorder, Ballard saw Lieutenant Robinson-Reynolds standing out in the bullpen. That gave her a moment of relief because she knew he would be able to confirm what he knew of her investigation. She had never told him about Bonner but he knew from her last briefing that she was closing in on something.
Ballard had not looked at the time since being woken by Bonner’s attack. She didn’t know how long she had slept and therefore couldn’t fix the hour. Her phone had been taken from her. It was daylight when Bonner attacked and when she was treated at the rescue wagon for the cut on her chin. But now she had been in a windowless interview room for what she estimated was two hours.
“So let’s connect the dots one more time,” Sanderson said. “You’re saying you did not know and had no previous interaction with Christopher Bonner, correct?”
“Yes, correct,” Ballard said. “The first time I met him — if you want to call it meeting him — was when I woke up and he was on top of me, trying to stick my gun into my mouth.”
“So, how is it that he knew where you lived, apparently knew your schedule, and knew you would be asleep at three o’clock in the afternoon?”
Ballard was thankful that Sanderson had slipped a time marker into his question. She could now extrapolate that it was somewhere between 6 and 7 p.m. But what was more important was Sanderson’s asking how Bonner would know her sleep schedule. There was no way Hoyle could know what her assignment or work schedule was from her business card or their brief interaction. She decided not to mention that in her answer to Sanderson.
“As I have said repeatedly in this interview,” she said, “I attempted to question Dennis Hoyle at the memorial yesterday for Javier Raffa. He was clearly spooked. In a homicide investigation, one of the first questions is, who benefits? The answer in this case is Dennis Hoyle. My attempt to interview him led to him jumping in his car and driving away. He didn’t want to talk to me. I now have to assume he called Bonner, and Bonner came after me. Those are the dots and that is the connection.”
“It will bear further investigation,” Sanderson said.
“I hope so, because I don’t want Hoyle to get away with this or with Raffa.”
“I understand, Detective. A moment please.”
Sanderson leaned back in his chair and looked down to his legs. Ballard knew he had his phone on his thigh and was probably getting texts from his other FID investigators. Ballard, when she had worked with a partner, had followed the same practice. It allowed for real-time information and questions.
Sanderson looked up at her after reading the latest text.
“Detective, why is Harry Bosch calling your cell phone every thirty minutes?”
Ballard had completely kept Bosch out of her story while being questioned. She now had to answer carefully so as not to step on any land mine. Having now been sequestered for over two hours, for all she knew, Sanderson’s team had already
interviewed Bosch, and Sanderson already had the answer. She had to make sure their stories matched even though she didn’t know what Bosch had said or would say.
“Well, as you probably know, Harry is retired LAPD,” she began. “I have had cases in the past that involved some of his old investigations, and so I have known him for four or five years and he’s sort of taken on a mentor’s role with me. But specifically in this case, I told you that I linked the Raffa murder to another case through ballistics. That case — the victim’s name was Albert Lee — was investigated by Harry Bosch nine years ago. When I made that connection, I reached out to Bosch to pick his brain about the case and get any sort of angle on this thing that I could.”
“And did you?”
“Yes, it was information from Bosch that allowed me to further find out who benefits. In the Albert Lee case, his business and insurance policy went to a dentist who had loaned him the money to keep his business afloat. That dentist was partners with Hoyle in another business. Bosch helped me make those connections. Bonner became the suspected killer in both cases. But I believe he was sent after these victims, the same way he was sent after me.”
“By the dentists.”
Ballard immediately shook her head. She had to stop that.
“So, when we speak to Bosch, he will tell the same story?” Sanderson asked.
“If he speaks to you,” Ballard said. “He did not leave the department on good terms. So good luck with that.”
“And there is nothing romantic there between you and Bosch?”
“If I was a man and I had reached out to a retired detective
with a connection to my case, would you ask me if there was a romance between us?”
“I take that as a no.”
“You can take it however you want, but I am not answering questions like that. But I am glad this is recorded.”
Sanderson tried to stare Ballard down but she didn’t blink.
“Now can I ask you something?” Ballard said.
“You can always ask,” Sanderson said. “I can’t promise I will answer.”
“Have you found Bonner’s car?”
“Why would you ask that?”
“Because I assume that if he drove, he parked in my neighborhood, and since he had nothing in his pockets but lockpicks, I assume there will be a phone, wallet, maybe notes and other things, in his car. Maybe the gun that killed my two victims. If I were you, I’d be looking for his car right now.”
“I can assure you that the investigation is continuing outside this room, Detective. You don’t have to worry about that.”
“Good. What about the media? Are they onto this yet?”
“Detective, in this room, I am asking the questions. You have another repeat caller to your cell that I would like to ask you about. Garrett Single, the paramedic you told us coached you through the field tracheotomy. He has called you more times than Bosch. Why is that?”
“Well, I won’t really know until I can talk to him and find out, but my guess is that he wants to know if I’m all right.”
“He cares about you.”
“I think he does.”
Ballard braced for the romance question but Sanderson surprised her.
“Thank you, Detective,” he said. “And for now I think we
have enough information from you. We are placing you on desk duty until we complete our investigation. In the meantime, I am ordering you not to contact or talk to the media about this incident. If you are contacted by a person in the media, you are to refer them to — ”
“Wait a minute,” Ballard said. “Who’s going to work the case? We’re not going to drop it while you and your people decide whether I did anything wrong.”
“My understanding is that the case has already been transferred to West Bureau Homicide. They will take it from here. By your own testimony, we are talking about a suicide. I’m sure they will close it quickly and you will be back to work.”
“I’m not talking about Bonner killing himself. I’m talking about the Javier Raffa case and the Albert Lee case.”
“Again, West Bureau will handle it.”
What was in play here only then hit Ballard. Christopher Bonner was ex-LAPD and that was an image problem. Not only was it a huge issue that an ex-LAPD officer was likely a hit man before and after he left the job, but whether he still had connections in the department was unknown. Thanks to Sanderson’s questions, Ballard already had one idea about the ties Bonner still had. Add to that the missing murder books, and this was a high-octane scandal waiting to explode in the media. It was best to keep everything compartmentalized. And tying together the murders of Albert Lee and Javier Raffa and solving them would only work against the department.
“I know what you’re going to do,” Ballard blurted out.
“Really?” Sanderson said. “What am I going to do, Detective?”
“You’re going to sand and sweep. Like you always do. This department is so fucked up. It’s like we don’t even care about victims anymore. It’s protect and serve the image instead of the citizens.”
“Are you finished, Detective?”
“Oh, yeah, I’m finished. Where’s my phone? Where’s my gun? I want them back.”
Sanderson turned to look at Hammel, who had returned and was standing with his back to the door.
“Her lieutenant has her phone,” the sidekick said.
Sanderson turned back to Ballard.
“Check with your lieutenant about the phone,” he said. “Your weapon is being processed. You will get that back when appropriate. In the meantime, you can ask your lieutenant about a temporary replacement from the armory. It may not be necessary, as for the moment you are assigned to desk duty.”
He waited a moment for Ballard to respond. She didn’t.
“Then I think we’re finished here,” Sanderson said.
Everyone stood up. The men from FID were closest to the door, and Ballard let them leave first. When she was last out of the interview room, she found Robinson-Reynolds waiting for her in an empty bullpen. Through the casement windows Ballard could see that it was full dark outside.
The lieutenant stood up from the desk he had been leaning on with folded arms.
“Renée, you okay?”
“I’ll take you back to your place.”
“Do you have my phone?”
“Yes. They gave it to me.”
Robinson-Reynolds reached into his suit coat pocket and produced Ballard’s phone. She checked the screen to see what calls had come in. Five minutes earlier Bosch had once again tried to call her.
She decided not to call him back until she was alone, but while
her lieutenant watched, she quickly fired off a text telling Bosch she was fine and would call him in a half hour.
Ten minutes later she was in the front passenger seat of Robinson-Reynolds’s car, telling him to get to Commonwealth Avenue and head south.
“You’re probably going to want to pack some things and stay somewhere else for a while,” Robinson-Reynolds said. “A friend’s place, or if you want a hotel, I’ll find a way to make the department cough up a chit for it.”
“No, I’ll be fine,” Ballard said.
“You sure? Your room is probably a mess — courtesy of Forensics.”
“I’ve got a big couch.”
“So, what about West Bureau?”
“What about it?”
“Ross Bettany called me to take over the case. I’m supposed to meet him tomorrow.”
“Then meet him. He’s still taking it.”
“I want to know if they’re going to work it. Bonner was LAPD. It felt in there with Sanderson that this wasn’t going anywhere, because solving it means putting that out there: veteran LAPD officer turned hit man.”
“You really think they would cover it up — a murder?”
“It’s two murders — at least. And yes, I do, because Bonner, the shooter, is dead. As far as Sanderson goes, it’s case closed. Taking it the next step and going after the people who ordered the hits, that’s dangerous, because all of the Bonner stuff will tumble out and the department gets its ass kicked once again.”
“Don’t overthink it, Ballard.”
Ballard noticed he was back to addressing her by her last name.
“It’s not overthinking,” she said. “It’s the reality we live in.”
“Maybe,” he said. “But it’s going to be West Bureau’s reality, not ours. So just follow protocol, Ballard. Turn the case over to the guy and go back to work on the Midnight Men.”
She said it in a tone of resignation that signaled that she would never say those two words again.
Ballard crossed the center courtyard to use the stairs, because the building’s elevator was so slow. But before she got to the first step, she heard her name called. She turned and saw a man stepping out the door of his first-floor apartment. He came toward her. It was the bicyclist she had met over the weekend, but already she couldn’t remember his name.
“Hi,” she said.
“Some crazy stuff here today,” he said. “Is everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine now.”
“I mean, I was told a guy broke in and tried to kill you.”
“He did. But it’s complicated and the police are investigating.”
“But you are the police.”
“Yes, but I’m not investigating this, so I can’t really talk about it.”
She started to move back toward the stairs.
“We aren’t used to this sort of thing here,” the neighbor said.
Ballard turned back.
“That’s a good thing, then,” she said. “Neither am I.”
“Well, I know you’re new,” the neighbor said. “And I hope that this sort of thing isn’t going to be normal. I feel as HOA president that I need to say that.”
“I’m sorry, what is your name again?”
“It’s Nate. We met in the — ”
“The garage, I remember. Well, Nate, I don’t consider it normal when somebody tries to kill me in my bed. But you should know that he was a stranger and that it was a break-in, and I was thinking that the next time you have a homeowners’ meeting, you might want to review the security around here. He got in here somehow, and I’d hate to see the HOA be held responsible for anything. That could be expensive.”
“Uh, totally,” he said. “I, uh, I’m going to call a special meeting to review building security.”
“Good,” Ballard said. “I’d like to hear how that goes.”
This time she turned and Nate had nothing further to say. She took the steps two at a time and found her front door had been left unlocked by the investigators. Typical LAPD incompetence. She locked it after entering and quickly moved through the apartment to her bedroom. The junk drawer she had pulled out of the bed table that afternoon during the struggle with Bonner was still on the floor. She could see fingerprint dust on its handle. Rooting through the drawer, she found the burner phone she had buried in the junk. She snapped it open and saw that it had either been powered off or its battery had died.
She fumbled with it, looking for the on/off button and found none. She held her thumb down on the 0 button but nothing happened. She then tried the 1, and the phone’s screen finally came to life. Once it was fully booted, she went to work checking for stored numbers and recent calls. There were none but the texting app had a single message, timed at 4:30 p.m. that day from an 818 area code. It was just one word: Report.
“Got you,” she whispered.
She stared at the phone for a few moments, considering her next move. She knew she had to be careful and conservative.
If she answered the text wrong, the lead could disappear like cigarette smoke in the wind. If she used the phone in any way — to text or call — she could be tampering with evidence. She decided to wait and closed the phone. She went into the kitchen and put it in a Ziploc bag and sealed it. Pulling her own phone, she called Bosch.
“You up for a ride?” she asked.
“Sure,” he said. “When?”
“Come get me.”
“On my way. And, uh, I’ll need a gun. They’re processing mine and my backup’s in my locker.”
“Not a problem.”
Ballard liked how he answered without any question or hesitation.
“Okay, see you soon,” she said.